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Cuomo deprioritizes climate change bill; some lawmakers push back

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo  Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — A comprehensive bill to combat climate change is on the verge of becoming the first major casualty of the legislative session, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, although several legislators are fighting back.

Cuomo said this week at two events that he doesn’t expect the proposed Climate & Community Protection Act to be approved in the final 10 days of the session. He said it is no longer among his priorities for this session.

The bill would set aggressive lower goals to reduce greenhouse gases from motor vehicles and development, and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels by shifting to renewable resources such as wind and solar power, among other actions. The bill is aimed at combating the rising temperatures of climate change that supporters blame for extreme storms and dangerous rises in sea level.

Supporters said legislative action is needed because the damage from climate change is accelerating. “We can all do that within the next nine days,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. “We will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Cuomo said his 10 priorities now for passage by the June 19 scheduled end of session include a rent control bill, women’s rights issues, ending the statute of limitations on second- and third-degree rape, ending a “gay panic” defense in connection with assaults on gay victims; and turning his executive order into law that empowers the attorney general to handle police shooting cases.

Democratic legislators pushing the climate change bill are led by Long Islanders: Kaminsky and Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), who blame superstorm Sandy on climate change.

The issue could force another confrontation between Cuomo and the new Democratic majority of the Senate. The Assembly and Senate could choose to negotiate a bill between themselves and pass it, but that would risk a veto by Cuomo. The Legislature has never tried to override a Cuomo veto, but this is the first year the Senate has been led by Democratic progressives willing to challenge the governor.

“The issue is the most important and pressing issue in our state and nation and, arguably, in the world,” said Englebright, chairman of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee.

The June 19 end of session isn’t set in law, but decided each year by legislative leaders and has often been exceeded when the Senate or Assembly didn’t finish business they wanted to complete.

The Assembly has passed the climate change bill in each of the last three years, but it was stopped by the former Republican majority of the Senate. Kaminsky said all 39 Democrats in the Senate said they support the bill, which would be seven more votes than needed. The bill, however, has made little progress in the Senate since it was introduced in January.

In the closing days of a legislative session, the priorities of the governor and legislative leaders are negotiated behind closed doors. The deal is often released in the final days of the session in what is often referred to as the big ugly — a term for an omnibus bill that combines major but unrelated issues.

“It would be ideal if there was a three-way agreement,” said Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “But most important is that we want action this year.”

She called on Cuomo to re-engage in the fight to pass the bill, which was once one of his own priorities.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio noted Cuomo and the legislature have already made strides against climate change this session. They include enacting a congestion pricing plan for New York City, which should reduce traffic in Manhattan, and blocking a proposed pipeline from New Jersey to provide natural gas to the city and Long Island that could have been a threat to water quality.

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